1. Saturday's epigraph comes from Nobel Prize
winner Saul Bellow, whose novel Herzog
features an academic facing the shortcomings of his life.
The novel was published in 1964; how might the history of the early
Sixties have influenced Bellow's perspective? Forty years later,
how does Ian McEwan's protagonist embody current events?
2. At the end of Saturday's first paragraph, as
Henry wakes too early, McEwan writes, "And he's entirely himself,
he is certain of it, and he knows that sleep is behind him: to know
the difference between it and waking, to know the boundaries, is
the essence of sanity." To what else does Henry awaken as the novel
progresses? In the book and in the world, who remains asleep (and
unaware of their slumber)?
3. When Henry hears about the cargo plane's safe landing, McEwan
observes, "Schrödinger's cat was alive after all." How does
Schrödinger's thought-experiment, allowing two outcomes to co-exist
during a period of uncertainty, apply to Henry's daily life? How
does it express the nature of human thought during times of
4. Was the collision between Henry's car and Baxter's an
accident? What visual cues (the type of car Henry associates with
criminals, the "scarecrow" clothes that make him look like
something other than a doctor) stoke the fire? What class conflicts
are projected as the men argue? What determines who has more power
in that situation?
5. Discuss the irony of the novel's title. Henry intended to
spend the day relaxing; does the modern world allow for any true
respite from worry?
6. In your opinion, what accounts for the bliss between Henry
and his wife? When he met her, did her vulnerability (through
illness) feed their attraction, or was it merely a means for them
to find one another? What accounts for Henry's uneasy relationship
with his father-in-law?
7. In researching Saturday, Ian McEwan spent
months observing brain surgery. What parallels exist between a
writer's craft and a surgeon's? What is the effect of McEwan's
decision to cast Henry in the specialty of neurosurgery (as opposed
to thoracic or orthopedic surgery, for example)? How does Henry's
ease with medical terminology, but discomfort with the vocabulary
of literature, influence your reading experience?
8. Jay Strauss moved to the U.K. in part because of his
enthusiasm for socialized medicine. How would you describe the
healthcare system presented in the novel?
9. Do you think Jay personifies most or few Americans? Is he
more competitive than Henry?
10. As Henry watches his mother's dementia worsen, he labels the
physiological reasons for her decline. Does his familiarity with
science ease or aggravate the sadness of losing her?
11. One of Henry's last errands in the novel is to listen to
attend a performance by Theo's band. What does blues music, along
with its American flavor, mean to Theo? Does Henry experience this
art differently from the way he hears Daisy's work?
12. Why was Baxter's invasion of Henry's house essential to this
novel? In what way can this scene be explored as a metaphor for
politics, war, even global economics? Why was it also necessary for
Henry's security system to be proven ineffective that night?
13. Using an anthology or website, read Matthew Arnold's
nineteenth-century masterwork "Dover Beach" in its entirety. What
caused it to resonate with Baxter's memories? Can you think of any
contemporary poems in free verse that would have served Daisy's
purpose so well?
14. What saves Henry's family from Baxter and his cohorts:
Poetry? Pregnancy? Bravery? Intelligence? Luck? Divine
intervention? Baxter's illness? How would you have reacted in a
15. As Henry returns to the hospital that night, he realizes
this is where he feels most comfortable - even more so than when
he's in the world of alleged leisure. Earlier in the novel, McEwan
describes how orderly Henry's mother was; Henry wishes he had just
once invited her to the operating theater. Is this sense of order
and belonging innate to Henry's profession, or is it something
Henry has ascribed to it? In what locale do you personally feel
you're at the top of your game? Is this the same locale that puts
you at ease?
16. Why is Henry willing to perform surgery on Baxter? What
keeps Henry from craving the revenge Rosalind anticipated? Would
you be able to drop the charges, as Henry hopes to do? How do you
respond to McEwan's questions: "Is this forgiveness? . . . Or is
[Henry] the one seeking forgiveness?"
17. Can Henry's surgery on Baxter be called revenge? Is his
probing of Baxter's brain a violation? Or, is Henry's magnanimous
act a victory of enlightened liberalism over Baxter's primal power
18. During Henry's reunion with Daisy, they waver between words
of affection and a rapid-fire ideological debate about Iraq. How
would such a debate have unfolded in your household?
19. Four generations are presented in Saturday,
including Daisy's child. What does each generation bestow, or hope
to bestow, upon the next? What spurred such an exceptional level of
accomplishment among the members of the Perowne family?
20. Discuss the element of storytelling itself in
Saturday. Do the stories disseminated within this
novel - by the broadcasters, the protesters, the lawless, the
keepers of family legacy - all describe the same reality? Who or
what has the power to influence what we believe? What literary
devices did Ian McEwan use to evoke realism in this novel?
21. Examining the works of Ian McEwan as a continuum, how does
Saturday enrich the portrait of life he has been
crafting throughout his career?